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My attempts to revitalize the blog aren’t going so well. The problem is time, time management, and time sucks like Twitter, where people are so much funnier than I am.

It’s a really long time since I’ve written at all regularly, and I would imagine pretty much anyone reading this is new here. So here’s a bit of background and an update. I live in Oregon, but I spent 9 years of my life in North Africa, plus a year in France. I started this blog while we were living in Mauritania, which was so different from anywhere we’d experienced before that we used to say in wonder, “It’s like another planet.” Our nickname for Mauritania was, in fact, Planet Nomad, since they still retain a lot of their very-recent nomadic past. And that’s where the name of the blog came from, although of course it also worked well as a name for us, a family who moved internationally 6 times in 9 years, and who continue to live cross-culturally wherever they land.


Random pic of Latourell Falls, down the Columbia River Gorge. Oregon is beautiful! 

In 2010 we moved back to Oregon, and started working with Iraqi refugees, and that’s kind of when the blog died. My kids were teenagers, and as funny and infuriating as ever but much more aware of social media. And my new friends were internet-savvy and had such dramatic stories that I didn’t feel right telling them. I’ve always been careful, changing names and some details so that my Mauritanian friends would never feel exploited if they ever stumbled across the blog, but this felt different. Plus, so much of it was about raising kids and living in a culture not your own. So the blog died, in spite of my efforts to write of our visits back to North Africa and France.

So now, my kids are all grown. Elliot lives in Iceland, where he’s in grad school, getting a very practical MA in Medieval Norse and Viking Studies. That’ll just open doors for him around the world, right? He speaks about 6 languages now*, and I am v smug about this, because I told him that someday he would be grateful to me for making him go to French school, that first year when he cried every Sunday and said he didn’t want to go and refused to speak French. There are few things in life more satisfying than telling your kids, “I told you so!” The essence of good parenting in a nutshell!

*(I counted Icelandic but I really shouldn’t, since he is learning Old Icelandic by translating the sagas, so all he can say are phrases like “Thor swung his hammer and shattered the giant’s skull.” Fun, but probably not going to be super helpful if you need to know where the bathroom is.)

Ilsa is going to art school on the other side of the continent, in Rhode Island. Donn suggested she go straight to homeless as a way to avoid having school debt plus being homeless, but she declined. She is majoring in Painting, and will someday no doubt have a gorgeously-decorated section of the sidewalk to call home. She is very talented.

Abel lives at home, which makes me happy. He is working, photographing a lot, and keeps very busy with needing to rewatch “The Office” and “Parks and Rec.” I assume he does other things as well? He is never home and when he is, he’s either editing pictures or glued to his phone, watching Netflix. I think he’s doing well? Seriously, he’s a talented photographer, in an age when it’s nearly impossible to earn a living that way. Between our kids’ choices, Donn and I are almost certainly going to be joining them on the sidewalks in our old age. At least they will be beautiful, and we can pass our golden years learning about Thor and his hammer, and maybe adding some Icelandic vocabulary to our requests for spare change.

Donn and I now have an official non-profit. (Ilsa did that pic on the homepage, if you click through that link). Donn is the president. I am the Director of the ESL program, and we’ve grown a lot–we now have 5 levels and about 60 students if everyone comes (which they don’t), plus a small army of volunteers teaching them, ferrying people back and forth, watching little ones so their mothers can concentrate on English for two hours straight, etc. I actually love my job, except that it keeps me from spending hours staring out the window, reading books, and drinking tea, but all my jobs do that. I do drink a lot of tea but it tends to be in my students’ homes, accompanied by a lot of food and conversation.


Many of the attendees at the ESL Thanksgiving Party. We ate turkey and qubbah and potatoes and dolma and biryani and pumpkin pie and baklava. 

And now that we’re all caught up, I will resume my travel writing. Come back for more pics of Thai temples, a treatise on the toilets of SE Asia (no really, I have to show you these signs), and if you’re lucky, pictures of various lunches! You know you care what I had for lunch, at least while in Chiang Mai!


…in which I divide my year into two three parts cuz it was oh-so-interesting.

September: Ilsa is off to Rhode Island for art school, which is pretty much exactly opposite Portland, Oregon, and nearly as far as you can get and still be on the same continent. Meanwhile, her twin brother is staying home and going to the local community college. They’ve always been opposites in every way, so it’s reassuring to see that continuing. Right?

She got FF miles from her grandpa, so Donn and I ended up having to take the red-eye the night before, arriving in Boston at 7 a.m. Donn had cleverly googled “how to get out of Logan Airport without paying tolls” so we drove for hours and hours, down bumpy railroad tracks and through sketchy-looking industrial areas, eventually ending up far to the north east of Boston, when our hotel was far to the south west (towards Providence, which is an hour south of Boston). By this point it was after 10 and we were starving. No tolls though! Triumph! We found a hole-in-the-wall diner with wonderful eggs and bacon and low prices and thick china and where everyone talked like they’re supposed to in Boston. “They-ah, dea-ah,” said the waitress as she banged down the plate in front of me. (I’m not sure I’m doing the dialect right) We asked for directions to the hotel, and she yelled at the guys in the back and they came out and looked at the address and talked amongst themselves for ages before telling us which alleys and lanes to traverse on our way back to the toll road that didn’t require us to buy a special Boston pass, which also required an extra $20 to the rental car company. This was the real reason we were avoiding certain roads. We had to pay tolls (question: WHY? The roads were not that amazing) but we preferred to pay cash rather than have to buy a special gadget for a short visit.

People do complain about east-coast drivers. We thought they were fine, if a bit confused at times…


Yes, that’s a holiday-weekend-start-of-college-busy road in one direction only.

We eventually found our hotel, and they let us check in early so we passed out on the bed for a few blissful hours. (Remember, we’d been up all night) It was a super cute, very fun hotel, set in the middle of a sort of commercial wasteland. We drove back into Boston and drove to the Common and looked for parking. We ended up finding a place just across from Cheers, so we went in for a pint, but no one knew our name, it was crowded and no one was glad we came, and the beer was $7.50 a pint for something that claimed to be an IPA but wasn’t. It just wasn’t.

swan at common

Swan at Boston Common

This was later though. At first we wandered round and found someplace to eat. We were somewhat bemused to find that Portland, OR is trendy place in Boston. We saw menus proudly touting their use of Tillamook cheddar and Willamette Valley hops, and the guy at the front desk told us he’d always wanted to come to Oregon. And after that pseudo-IPA, I could see why!

We walked part of the Freedom Trail, which was super cool and interesting. We collected Ilsa at the airport at midnight, drove 45 minutes to the hotel, and unsurprisingly missed breakfast the next morning.



Boston at night…

We had a day to explore before taking Ilsa to school, so we went to Concord, and Lexington.


We explored the outside of Louisa May Alcott’s home and also the gift shop.

ilsa as a little woman

This perfect tree is just outside the Alcott family home, and it was all too easy to imagine Jo (from Little Women) sitting here eating apples.

We wandered through the Boston Common, where we saw 3 different bridal parties having photos done.

boston phone wedding

This just amused me, the bride frowning at her phone, the limo driver taking pics with the groom’s phone (not pictured).

The next day, we drove down to Providence and left Ilsa in her own little dorm room, at the top of a hill and on the 4th floor. No elevators. She was ecstatic to be there, and waved us off with a big smile, anxious for us to go and leave her to the serious business of Being a College Student.

On the plane on the way home, I read a book written by a woman who was raped on her second day of college. I do not recommend this. It was a good book, but still. Dang! Ilsa was fine though.

donn and founding fathers

Here is Donn, checking the wording of the Constitution on his phone so as to help the Founding Fathers get it right. (They had these panoramas (diaromas? Cardboard cutouts? What would you call this?) set up at Logan Airport.)

AND I think we’re going to have to stretch this into 3 parts, since in October, we went to Thailand…

Well this was the year I basically let the blog die. I only posted 5 times all year, and the last time was in April!

Blogging is basically dead as an art form. Few read, fewer comment. It seems the only ones still going are some sort of niche. But I’ve decided that I’d like to revive the old girl (my blog is a girl. Yours?) after all, and post sporadically about whatever I feel like. So let’s start with me getting you all caught up about last year chez the Nomad family.

2015 was a good year with lots going on. So much, in fact, that I’m going to put this into two posts. See? 2 posts in the first week. I’m off to a great start! In the meantime, here is Jan-Aug.

January: we come home from an afternoon out to find ourselves banned from the kitchen. Ilsa is applying to art schools, and one requires that she draw a bike. Since we live in Oregon where it’s cold and dark by 5, she has put the bike in the kitchen and is lying on the floor, drawing and drinking tea. We are not allowed to bump the bike. We manage to get out cheese and crackers for dinner.

don't bump bike

She got in! This was for her first choice, RISD (riz-de), officially known as the Rhode Island School of Design. We’ll get to the implications of this in September.

January also saw a friend from Mauritania visit. It was his first time visiting a Western country. A lot of things were new to him. For example, he had hoped to meet with some local officials, but really didn’t understand how far out he would have needed to schedule something like that. Seat belts were also very new to him. He was a good sport, although I know this had to be like another planet to him.

February is lost to the mists of time, which keep growing thicker with my advancing age. Seriously, I suppose we did something?

March: The twins turned 18. Ilsa always chooses cinnamon rolls for her birthday breakfast. I accidentally doubled the recipe–which makes tons even normally–so we had a million or so cinnamon rolls. The neighbours, random Iraqi friends, and of course the twins were very happy. I use the Pioneer Woman’s recipe, modified to not kill us quite so quickly (i.e. 1% milk instead of whole, half the amount of butter, etc), and with cream cheese frosting instead of that nasty muck she puts on hers.

too many cinnamon rolls.jpg

April, May…I dunno. Life. Stuff. Hiking, visits from people. Oh I dyed my hair red! I’ve always wanted to be a redhead. As I’d suspected, I looked good, but it quickly faded to orange, which didn’t look good. Also I went to Memphis as part of a blog tour for St Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital. It was a really cool time and I only managed to blog half of it, as is my wont.

June: This is where it gets interesting, as we began the Summer of The Visitors. Seriously, we had out-of-town guests almost nonstop from June through mid-August.

First of all, the twins graduated from high school.

twins grad

Donn’s family came for graduation, and his parents stayed for a week, which is always a bit like having Archie and Edith from All in the Family to stay. Happily we didn’t have to go camping this time. Donn’s sister Kris, who reads this blog, and her husband came for the first week and then decided to stay for an extra two weeks. They stay in a hotel, so they are very easy visitors. We went down the gorge, ate giant ice cream cones from Salt & Straw, ate fresh berries, and did other summery, family-type things, like going to Powells.

Elliot came home for 2 days and then left for a summer in Jordan, where he spent the summer in an intensive language program. This was a government-sponsored scholarship, starting with a day of orientation in DC. When his 6 a.m. flight was cancelled, we waited in line for several hours only to have the airline clerk tell him they couldn’t fly him out till midnight that night, which would mean he’d miss orientation. We agreed, and were leaving the airport while he called the program to let them know. “Unacceptable, soldier!” they told him. (Not really. That is just a line from a Bourne movie.) And they put him on a flight leaving at noon. How? The person working for the airline couldn’t do it. Only the government. (Cue creepy Twilight music here).

I told Elliot that someone had probably gotten bumped. He was thrilled when they actually paged a “John M Caine” while he was waiting to board. Oh, we watched the Bourne movies too often when he was younger.

elliot off to jordan

This picture was taken after his flight was cancelled and he was put on another one 5 hours later, so we took him out for breakfast. It’s still very early in the morning, which is probably why he looks so bleary.

He had a great time in Jordan. He lived with a host family and took classes and went on cultural excursions and saw ancient ruins and was tired and busy and hot and actually missed us.

July: For most of July, a friend from Morocco was here. (She’s Moroccan, but I first knew her and her family in Mauritania) We had a great time. We went hiking down the gorge, went to the coast, went downtown and ate giant ice cream cones at Salt and Straw, went to the Rose Garden and Powells, and just generally had a good time. It was her first time in America. We have now seen each other in 3 countries, and we are wondering where we’ll meet up next. Any ideas?

It was the hottest summer ever. It was terrible. We had a dry winter, a normal spring (wet and cool), and then a hot, dry summer. Sumi and I went to a lavender festival in Hood River on a day when it was over 100 degrees. Even though we lived in the Sahara desert together, we both agreed that we hated the heat.

mt hood

This may not look like drought to you, but nonetheless it was a bad year. Lakes and rivers were really low, and several Oregon counties had to declare emergencies.

At the end of July, another friend came to see Sumi. We were all in Mauritania at the same time. Michelle now lives in Kansas, from which it’s easier to fly to Oregon than Morocco. We had a whirlwind few days of it, including eating giant ice cream cones from Salt & Straw. This was a theme of the summer. Actually, it’s kind a theme anyway. Come visit! We are used to people visiting and will eat ice cream anytime of year. The lines are shorter in winter.

August: Sumi left, then Michelle left, then the next day we got a visit from some French friends of ours, a family we knew in Morocco. It was blazing hot during their visit, so hot that we couldn’t enjoy being outside, even though we took them for giant ice cream cones. We went down the Gorge to Hood River on a Friday and it was 104 degrees. The next day we went to the beach and it was 65, and so foggy we couldn’t see the water while actually standing on the beach. Obviously, Oregon hates them. I don’t know why, as they are actually very nice.

Also, we saw a seal! Seal in French is “phoque” and if you exclaim that word excitedly to children on a public beach in America, you will get some side glances.

Elliot also came back mid-August from Jordan and was actually home for 2 entire weeks. Donn and I celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary, although we waited to celebrate properly till November. More on that later. Ilsa got all 4 of her wisdom teeth out at once and was really funny while coming out of anesthesia. Also really difficult. Pain Med Ilsa is not very nice.

bleu heure

Tintype (taken with app on my phone) of restaurant where we ate on actual 25th wedding anniversary. We are officially old now, although according to Ilsa, we have been for years. Oddly comforting, in a way. 

So I went to Memphis last week. I didn’t make it to Graceland, although I did go to the Stax Museum. Mostly I visited the St Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

IMG_4121One of the statues of St Jude that dot the grounds, which are extensive and well-manicured.

Before I went, I had a basic familiarity with the place, but knew no specifics. So suffice it to say I was totally blown away. I am blogging about it at 5 Minutes for Moms so I won’t repeat myself too much here, but I will just say that I was really impressed.

There were 10 of us on the tour, and I was the only one coming from the West Coast. Because events started at noon on Wednesday, they flew me in on Tuesday and put me up in a downtown hotel. I don’t think I’ve ever stayed on my own in a hotel before; I’ve always been with someone else. Is this unusual? I have stayed in far more hotels than I could remember, but always with someone–husband, or mother, or kids, etc.

So, Tennessee. These people have accents! “Is this considered the south?” I asked at one point, because it seemed that way to me but I didn’t want to continue in my possible ignorance. I was assured it was, and they proved it to me with their sweet “tea” and bbq and people actually saying things like “Heavens to Betsy!” and “Lawd a’ mercy!” quite unironically. “Didn’t you know people said that?” asked Donn and I said yes, of course, but I thought it was only people in books or in 50s television shows. I loved it!

A limo picked me up. The driver was a retired police officer who’d had to quit because of arthritis but who could still drive, and was determined to work as long as he could. He was chatty and filled me in on local geography and history. Once I’d checked in to my room, I kicked off my shoes and collapsed on the fluffy white bed with a sense of glee. I put on my sweats and ordered a room service hamburger, another new experience. I grabbed the remote and starting channel surfing–in effect another new experience, since Donn hates TV and so even where we are in places that have cable, I don’t get to watch what I want.

It turns out what I wanted to watch was reality TV, surprising even to myself but there was really nothing else on. I have never watched reality TV and have never really wanted to, but I found myself strangely attracted and repelled at the same time by that enormous family at 19 Kids and Counting. It was like the proverbial train wreck. Everyone was constantly clean and shiny and smiley so I knew it was carefully edited because I only have 3 and they fight, and I felt that the mom, Michelle, talked to us like we were mentally-challenged preschoolers she was determined to love.

I couldn’t sleep till 2 a.m, which is midnight in Oregon. Not surprising. At 4 a.m., the loudest WHOOP WHOOP WHOOP in the universe came through a vent in the wall that had been invisible until that moment rent the time-space continuum.

Could I possibly have dreamed it? I wondered. Should I call the desk? Surely if they wanted me to evacuate, they would somehow communicate through the phone, though a knock on the door, something. I considered calling downstairs, but decided instead to go back to sleep. Just then a voice came through the vent. “It has been determined that there is no emergency at this time,” it told us. Phew! Back to sleep.

At 6 it happened again. WHOOP WHOOP WHOOP. Then the voice. I had already determined it would tell me if I needed to dress and make coffee and evacuate, although possibly not in that order, and only wanted it to stop talking. But it wouldn’t. It forgot to turn the switch off, so we got to listen to people at the desk chattering. The only thing in the world I wanted right then was quiet, even if it meant burning to a crisp, but it was not to be for fully 15 minutes. Finally it announced, after another annoying set of WHOOPs, that someone on floor 12 had attempted to dismantle their smoke alarm (go, crazy drunk person on floor 12) and that it had been determined that there was no emergency at this time. I listened to the fire engine arriving downstairs and went contentedly back to sleep.

I got up at 9 and went downstairs for breakfast. I was the worst dressed person in the dining room, which I found stressful. I had heard things were more formal in the south; was I doomed to be the only person on the blog tour in red jeans and open-toed sandals? Finally I figured out that everyone else was there for some convention, and that I might be dressed okay for my own events (I was). They all seemed to know each other, and there were several large black men in striped suits being jovial near the grits. The waitress called me “sweet pea” twice, which I don’t think has ever happened before, served me Starbucks, and forgot my refill for a long time. (I drink astonishingly amounts of coffee) I avoided the grits, whatever they are, and also the “gravy,” which was white and looked lumpy and also, gravy for breakfast? I was content with bacon and eggs and lashings of fresh fruit.

Around noon I met the other members of the blog tour and we all set off for the hospital. And I will finish this tomorrow.

So I’m going to Memphis tomorrow. And every time I say or think that, the song starts in my head.

Going to Graceland, Graceland,

Memphis Tennessee

I’m going to Graceland.

I’ve reason to believe we all will be received in Graceland.

I don’t actually know if I’m going to Graceland. What am I doing is joining a group of bloggers at the invitation of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. I have never done a blog tour before so I’m kind of excited. In preparation I am making sure the Paul Simon song is on my phone, so that I can listen to it on the trip. Although I don’t really need to, since it is well established in my head. They did say we might do some touristy things, which to me means Graceland. (All together now, “poorboys and pilgrims with families and we are going to Graceland…”) I did go on and found that not only can you stay at Heartbreak Hotel, where they feel the need to mention that every room comes with its own hair dryer and microwave (sooo posh!), but you can enter to win an Elvis-themed wedding in Vegas and Priscilla Presley will be your matron of honour. I am not making this up. I want to do this so much! Can’t you see it? Donn and I can renew our vows. There’s no way I want to start over with anyone else–I’m finally getting him trained! The pictures will be priceless; me, Donn and Priscilla. Her hair will be the biggest, I suspect. And who could you ever get as best man to match this? Seriously, who? Please comment.

Donn is somewhat bemused. He’s actually a big Elvis fan, which is that part of him that is mysterious and beyond understanding to me. He even likes sweaty 70s Elvis, and songs that make me want to fling myself from a moving car onto the pavement, like “In the Ghetto.” (Or the one where he’s something something with a stone in his shoe, searching for yooooouuuuuu! I hate that one! I can’t hear it with any patience. Happily I’ve got Paul Simon so thoroughly in my head that I’m not worried about any Elvis sticking.) So Donn is happy but suspicious of my huge interest in going to Graceland. But I want to see it. And I want souvenirs too. I would pay good money for a bobble Elvis that swayed its hips instead of its head. Wouldn’t you?

In all seriousness (Memphis Tennessee I’m going to Graceland), I am looking forward to this trip. I went on St. Jude’s website and watched a video with an Iraqi friend of mine yesterday, and we were both in tears by the end, so I expect to be a total mess but that’s okay. I’ve reason to believe I still will be received.

Aside from that, I am going to have a break. I will not be cleaning for example. Not that I ever do, but the pressure to do so will be removed. Nor will I cook, teach, visit, advocate, or any of my other daily responsibilities. I will have time to read in the evenings, alone in blissful silence. This could be nice. I have packed in readiness.

And I’m mostly going to blog over at 5 Minutes for Mom, but I plan to get in some stuff here too. I have such a good track record of blogging my trips after all.

For reasons I cannot explain there’s some part of me wants to see Graceland.

…because seriously, who has time to write or read an entire year in review? Let’s just do a month, shall we? That’ll be plenty.

This month I:

* Got a Christmas tree, along with most Americans and a surprising number of Iraqis. They tend to decorate rooms with coloured lights year-round, so it makes sense they’d enjoy hanging even more lights, not to mention stockings. I got given a music box Santa that plays “Silent Night” at a demonic speed–seriously, faster even than the Chipmunks. But I digress.

We live in Oregon, near to the edge of the Urban Growth Boundary (which I adore. Cuts down on sprawl). I’ve mentioned how I’m 10 minutes away from fresh berries in the summer; that also equals 10 minutes away from a plethora of Christmas tree farms. We were on our way to one, where a friend’s son was working, when we saw the sign for $10 Nobles. “Let’s check it out,” we said, so we drove over hill and dale to a very large farm where they apparently haven’t quite worked out the whole economy thing yet, although they’ve  been open since the 50s at least. A very charming 8-year-old explained it all to us. “Welcome folks!” he started out, and Ilsa and I exchanged glances of pure joy. He was so cute!

Our choice was simple. We could select our own Noble, cut it down ourselves, and let them shake it and bind it. This would cost, for an 8-10 foot tree, about $100. Or, we could go over to where some trees they’d cut themselves just an hour ago were lying on the ground, and pay $10. But, they cautioned, they wouldn’t shake it for us. We were on our own.

The choice seemed simple to me. So we got ourselves a large, 10 foot or so, Noble tree for $10. I love Oregon.

e and tree

Here it is on the car. I haven’t mentioned that a friend backed into my car recently. It’ll be fixed soon.

tree on car

In addition to very reasonably-priced trees, this farm also had free hot chocolate, some very fat goats and donkeys in a petting zoo (Abel at the top of his lungs: “I wish Mauritanians could see how fat these animals are!”), and Santa. I forced my children to sit with Santa for a picture. Forced is the word, yes. But I will be kind to them and not post the picture I took. Instead, here is one of Abel decorating:

photo (5)

And one of the angel on the top.

photo (6)

* Hosted a party for over 250 Iraqi refugees and yes, it was totally crazy. This is what happened. Donn and I said, “Let’s have a Christmas party for our friends.” Then one of his friends said, “Can we invite the whole community? We’ll help do the food.” And we said yes, and asked our church to loan us a room, since our house is ample for a family of 5 but not really for 50 times that.

Planning this party took some time. I enlisted a lot of people to help. A friend went shopping with me, others helped me put goody bags for the kids together. Others donated funds, and one lady offered a ham, which we turned down since most Iraqis are Muslim. A group of high-schoolers volunteered to do crafts with the kids, and another group volunteered to help with clean up afterwards. It was still totally crazy.

Donn and a friend read the Christmas story while in the back, people discoursed happily at full volume and the kids ran in circles around the tables for sheer joy. It was chaotic, but I pictured a time when Jesus walked the earth, and I imagine that the crowds who listened to him weren’t all in rows like Sunday morning. Instead, I picture kids running wild, shouting and chasing each other, and the mothers in the back leaning in to each other for a comfortable gossip, while only those close to him could actually hear what he said. And everyone had a fantastic time, and there was food for all, and presents for most. I was most impressed with the high-schoolers who gave up their Friday evening to help, just to be kind–especially the ones who vacuumed. I was really happy I didn’t have to vacuum. It was a huge success. Not only was it the largest gathering of Iraqis in Portland, several told me,  but we also set the record for most cigarettes smoked at our church!


* The day after the party, I woke up feeling rather as if a cement truck had run over me. But it wasn’t to be a day of rest–the inlaws were  coming for Christmas, and arriving that evening, and thanks to the party I’d had no time for prep. So instead it was a day of shopping and cooking and cleaning. They were supposed to arrive at 11:30 but instead their flight came in at 2 a.m. They showed up at my house around 3:30 and it was after 4 before we were in bed. Next day was busy though, as was the next and the next. They were here a week and left on Saturday, and I’m still tired. My goal for 2013 is more sleep.

We had a lovely Christmas though. The day itself was mellow. We ate breakfast around noon and supper around 7, and in between we opened presents and listened to music and relaxed.

One day we took them down the Columbia River Gorge. It’s ages since I’ve gone there in winter, and I’d forgotten how much I love it when the trees are bare and the air is frigid, and the pastel light speaks of sunset throughout the day.

photo (3)

The inlaws enjoyed it, although they didn’t neglect to let me know how cold they were. They were always cold, poor things, their blood thinned from years of living in Southern California. In vain did I point out that the temperature was actually lower in their desert town than in our damp and windy city.

photo (4)

I apologize for the poor quality of these pictures and remind you that I took them with my phone.

How was your month? Year? And what are you most looking forward to in 2013? Me, I’m hoping to figure out this whole life/work/family/rest balance thing, and get more sleep. Wish me luck!

HAPPY 2013!!

I read some terrific books this month. In fact, I gave out TWO 5 star recommendations at 5 Minutes for Books, something I pretty much never do. (In fact, I think these were my 2nd and 3rd). In addition, I read some others that came pretty close.


Walk With Me: A Pilgrim’s Progress for married couples. At first I thought it sounded just okay, but author Annie Wald did such a terrific job portraying marriage (seriously, you don’t think she could have bugged my house, do you?) that I gave it 5 stars. Excellent stuff. Hurry and you can still enter to win a free copy!

The Round House:  Louise Erdrich’s latest. I gave it 5 stars and didn’t do it justice in my review. When an Indian woman is raped, her attacker can only be charged if it happens on federal land, not tribal land. A look at one such story, and the ripple effect the attack has on her husband and son and the community at large. Also very much a coming-of-age story. And super well-written, of course. It is Erdrich.

The Last Dragonslayer (The Chronicles of Kazam): Jasper Fforde’s foray into YA. Magic used to be everywhere but now it’s dwindling and no one knows why. Magic carpets are being used for pizza delivery, and magicians are now fixing plumbing and hoping to get fairly paid. But then come some surges, as well as weird prophecies of the death of the last dragon. A fun, light read that manages to include lots of Fforde’s quirks and puns and general silliness.

Mira’s Diary: Lost in Paris: Also linked to my review. Hurry and enter the giveaway! This is a middle-grade reader (i.e. 9 and up) that I nonetheless thoroughly enjoyed. It has everything–time travel, mystery, history, a wee bit of romance, and more. It also deals with the Dreyfus affair, which shockingly most people no longer know about. I love that a middle reader is addressing that. Really good.

Frankenstein: A Monstrous Parody: This one was great! You need this book. This is how is starts: “In a creepy old castle all covered with spines/lived 12 ugly monsters in two crooked lines./In 2 crooked lines they bonked their heads,/pulled out their teeth,/and wet their beds…/The ugliest one was Frankenstein.” Of course this is a Madeline parody, but it’s pitch-perfect and really fun. Even the twins loved it! A plus–you will have the Madeline rhymes stuck in your head for days. All together now…”She was not afraid of mice. She loved winter, snow and ice.” etc. 

The Good Braider: Another book that everyone should read. Seriously, do you think I’m bossy? Told in free verse, this book follows Viola from her life in Southern Sudan, where life is precarious and soldiers shoot children in the street, to her new life as a refugee in Portland, Maine and all the pain that such a major adjustment brings. It’s a sad book in many ways, yet it is beautiful too, and really shows the life of a refugee and the terrible adjustments they go through. I LOVED this book. It’s technically YA but good for any age.

The Witch of Babylon: There’s still time to enter this giveaway. This was a good read. It’s a mystery, moving between New York, Baghdad and Ninevah. Enjoyable. I liked that the main character was very much an ordinary man, not a super hero.

The Garden of Evening Mists: Actually I think I read this one in Sept. Sometimes I just can’t manage to write reviews. There’s no reason why. I really enjoyed this book and highly recommend it. Someday I will review it.


Forgotten: I’ve mostly finished this one. It has a fascinating premise. Emma’s mother recently died and left her a trip to Africa, which was a place she dreamed of visiting but never made it to. Emma goes, gets deathly ill, and then a devastating earthquake knocks out all communication and leaves her stranded for 6 months. When she makes it back home, everyone has assumed she is dead and life has moved on. It’s a great premise and an ok book–a quick read, sort of intelligent chick lit.

How to Love Wine: A Memoir and Manifesto: Because apparently I don’t? Seriously, I’m not very far into it, but the author says the point of wine is to enjoy it, not to know a ton about it. I agree. Let’s have another glass then, and finish the bottle.

To Read: There are oh so many!

The Stockholm Octavo: Each one of us have 8 individuals who help us find our true path. Set in 18th-century Stockholm, this novel is supposed to be wittily intelligent and fun. Hope so!

Flight Behavior The latest by Barbara Kingsolver. I sometimes like her and sometimes don’t, but she’s always a talented writer.

Iron Hearted Violet: YA book about an ugly princess, a timid dragon and a story with power to change their world.

The Woman Who Died A Lot: A Thursday Next Novel The latest in the Thursday Next series.

An Extraordinary Theory of Objects: A Memoir of an Outsider in Paris: looks so good!

So, anything catch your fancy? Don’t I have the best job in the world? And what about you; what are you reading? Do tell!

Well. Here we are at the end of June, and I’m as surprised as you are that this has happened already. Frankly, this caught me off guard, but my calendar is backing my editor up on this.

So without further ado, here’s what:


An Unmarked Grave: This is the 4th in the Bess Crawford series, the one about the WW1-era nurse/amateur sleuth, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I really like this series and recommend you read them if you haven’t already. Bess is a very sympathetic character–she’s strong-willed and practical and kind and just the sort you’d want to nurse you back to health. In this one, it’s 1918 and the Spanish flu is decimating soldier and medical personnel alike. Just before she succumbs to the dread disease, Bess realizes that one of the bodies awaiting burial in the shed didn’t die from wounds or disease, but was instead murdered. She recognizes him too–a family friend. When she’s recovered, she starts on a trail to find the killer, and ends up putting herself and her family in great danger. What I like about these books is that they’re not just murder mysteries or historical fiction, but they really look at life in that time and those circumstances, and the huge effect of war on those whose lives are touched by it. Go read it! This month I also read, and loved, book 3 in the series, A Bitter Truth.

Listening to Africa: This collection of poems was written by a woman who went on a long safari through several East African countries. She’s a good writer and I enjoyed them.

The New Republic: A very interesting novel. Deals with truth vs. media manipulation, and also with hero worship and what it means to put someone on a pedestal, both for the hero and the fan. Well done and gives you LOTS of food for thought. You could discuss this novel for hours! It’s also cram-jam packed with puns, just to bring some brightness to your life.

Game of Secrets: This is the sort of novel that makes you want to write fiction. It’s filled with lush descriptions but it doesn’t lose the sense of plot, and keeps things moving forwards. The center premise is life in a small New England town, and it’s told from the perspectives of 3 women–Marne, her mother Janie, and Ada, who was once the lover of Janie’s father and whose husband is popularly supposed to have killed him. (Did you follow that?) It’s a novel of family secrets and cover-ups, but also of growing up, of coming to forgive and show grace, and of allowing the past to stay there.

When Capt. Flint was Still a Good Man: Really enjoyed this book. It’s sort of a coming-of-age novel, with some Shakespearean references thrown in, not to mention great descriptions of the Pacific NW. How much is too much to pay to preserve a way of life for an entire town? Cal is 15 and unprepared for the answer his father gives to that question. Go read my review for more, and then go read the book.

Between You and Me: I pretty much fail at pop culture, but even I could see that this book referenced a lot of the events of Britney Spears’ life. Written by the authors of the popular Nanny Diaries, this  book contains their trademark humour and snark, but also gives a devastating look at how life on the top takes a huge toll on those who get there. I ended up feeling a lot of sympathy and compassion for the character of Kelsey Wade (the one who references Spears). The story is told from the p.o.v. of her cousin, Logan Wade, who becomes Kelsey’s manager. A good summer read, especially if you like pop culture.


The Voluntourist: Ken Budd is having a major mid-life crisis. His own father just died suddenly, and he’s facing the fact that he’s not going to be a father himself. He deals with it by deciding to give something back to the world, and begins to volunteer in places as diverse as Costa Rica, where he and his wife Julie teach English for a couple of weeks, to China, where he and a friend work with autistic children, to Ecuador, where he works with an environmental group. Budd’s a good writer and I enjoy his introspection and inherent honesty. I’m not quite halfway through–he’s got at least 3 more trips to make. I lived overseas myself and I recognize that popping in for 2 weeks here and there does a limited amount of good, but I like that Budd himself realizes this.

Abdication: This book takes place in England in 1936, and contains many actual historic figures (you can figure out two of them just from the title!), living in a world peopled with fictional characters. It’s interesting and it’s a fine book but sometimes it’s apparent that the author has done her research almost too well–in other words, it occasionally reads a bit like an article on what life was like at that time.

Four Quartets: Somehow I had never read these. I know! Of course I LOVED them. I think I am going to memorize parts of “Burnt Norton” and “Little Gidding.” (I know, you already did, in college. I’m such a loser)

And on the enormous stack of TO BE READ:

The Soldier’s Wife: I like Joanna Trollope as an author, and I think this should be an interesting look at the complexities of modern marriage when 6-month tours of Afghanistan are added to the mix.

Bullying Decoded: The Economics of Abuse: Long-term readers may remember that we’ve dealt with this in our own family, so I thought this looked interesting.

Where We Belong: I wasn’t going to read this one but they sent me the first chapter and I was hooked. Looks like intelligent chick lit.

Double Time: A memoir of raising twins. WHY DIDN’T I WRITE A BOOK? Sigh. Anyway, my interest in this topic is obvious.

Year Zero: The aliens have been hooked on earth music since the 70s, and due to copyright violations, the Earthlings now own everything. Supposed to be a zany combo of Douglas Adams and Jasper Fforde.

Sisters in War: A Story of Love, Family, and Survival in the New Iraq: Sigh. I don’t have time to read this. I was at Powells to pick up something for Elliot and I got sucked into a vortex swirling round the Middle East section and a zombie ate part of my brain AND held a gun to my head so I had to buy this, and also a book of poetry by T.S. Eliot. I could do this because I sold a bunch of books, in an attempt to stop having to triple-book each shelf of the bookcase. This is the story of 2 Iraqi sisters and 2 American aid workers and it’s about a clash of traditional Arabic/Islamic values with American-style feminism, supposedly, but it’s all personal stories and it actually looks really good. Really good. Who knows when I’ll get to it?

Skios: A Novel: supposed to be a humourous send-up of academics, captains of industry, ambitious social climbers and dotty philanthropists (I am modifying this from the back cover). Set on a private Greek island. I want a private Greek island too.

There you have it, aside from a few that I’m forgetting. What about you? Is it raining with you too? And what are you reading, in rain or shine?

I got sent a copy of Use Your Words: A Writing Guide for Mothers, a book that combines a tutorial on writing with a sort of memoir, and as such is enjoyable reading, last week. I was supposed to use a writing prompt and write an essay on mothering (the one I picked was “sensory details”) over at 5 Minutes for Mom. I decided to write about Elliot, about what it’s like to parent a 16 year old who’s basically this stinky hairy man while at the same time being, in my memory at least, this sweet little curly-headed boy with chocolate-brown eyes and a lot of deep thoughts. So I wrote it, but I wasn’t happy with it. It felt clunky; it wasn’t flowing. Then, suddenly, I opened a new file and wrote about a girl I cared for as a daughter for month, after the murder of her mother. It wasn’t where I’d intended to go, but here it is if you want to read it. If you leave a comment over there, you can enter to win a copy of the book.

As for my Mother’s Day, it was nice and uneventful. I am getting a red (dark pink) dogwood tree for the front yard, and I’m very excited about this as I have been wanting one for years. It’s strange to plant trees when you live a transient life. We bought this house but I have no idea how long we’ll be here; maybe till the twins finish high school in 3 more years, maybe longer. My lifetime average is 2-3 years per house and the longest I have ever lived at the same address is 6 years. I’ve planted tulips and daffodils in the yard, and enjoyed them during this second spring here, but I also imagine them being enjoyed by whoever lives here when we move on.  I read that only people who plan to stay put plant trees. I disagree. It’s true that planting a tree is symbolic of putting down roots, but I put down roots differently than most people; I plunge them into the soil like everyone else, but I don’t hold on tightly. I’ve learned that the best way to live in a house is to live as if you’ll always be there, all the while knowing that it’s highly unlikely. This gives the best memories.

An advantage to moving often is the aid to memory that it is. I can figure out pretty accurately when something happened by relating it to where we lived at the time. I lose specific dates, but I can narrow it down to a year or two.

What about you? Do you plant trees in places you suspect might be temporary? What does temporary mean to you?

Ok, Zumba is not on my nightstand. I’ve just gone to a couple of zumba classes lately and I must admit they are fun, sort of, if you like looking like an idiot/dork in the back doing the opposite of what everyone else is doing. In yesterday’s class, I noticed how many of the songs seemed to have the word “Zumba!” in them, and I’ve had it in my head ever since. Zumba!

On to the books!

What I’ve Read:

It’s been a busy month! Traveling to that conference certainly helped, as I had plenty of time waiting in airports, or lying in an Adirondack chair on sunny afternoons. However, lately, as my mother would have said, my eyes have been bigger than my tummy. In spite of my best efforts, I have still got an enormous stack still to get through! Sigh. I’m scrambling, not getting to everything, and doing my best. Come along with me…

Escape from Camp 14: One Man’s Remarkable Odyssey from North Korea to Freedom in the West: I already told you to read this one. A very important book. It’s the story of a young man who was born into one of the North Korea’s labour camps, bred to provide cheap labour, raised almost as an animal, and his mind-boggling escape to the west. Shines a light on a really horrible and desperate situation, and leaves you with a great compassion for this man, who is having to learn as an adult the simple things (love, mercy, trust) that most of us are privileged to learn as infants. Go read it.

Forgotten Country: A gorgeous book. Oddly enough, it also deals with Korea both North and South (mostly South). It’s the story of family, of the loss of a father, of the loss of country and identity. It’s beautifully written and not as depressing as I just made it sound. Highly recommended.

Shadow on the Wall (The SandStorm Chronicles, #1): This is a highly unusual book that I enjoyed very much, except for the graphic violence (I just sort of squint and skim) Recai Osman is a spoiled rich playboy living in Elih, Turkey, which is run by a corrupt and violent morality police whose reign of terror is enforced by brutality against women. Recai morphs into The Sandstorm, who comes out of the sand to stop people. He’s really a Muslim Batman, and Elih, in English, is Batman. Like I said, a very unusual book, but I recommend it.

An Impartial Witness: I’m doing the Bess Crawford Read Along at Book Club Girl, and thoroughly enjoying it. I love Bess! She’s plucky and practical and kind and steady and dependable. She’s a WWI-era nurse. This is the second in the series. She’s in France and has to escort some wounded back to England to a convalescent home (picture Downton Abbey Season 2) (I know! Isn’t it fun how that show has helped you picture this time period?) One man in particular is badly burned, and the only thing keeping him clinging to life is his love for his wife. He has her picture pinned to his uniform, so Bess sees it every day. On her way back up to London, she sees the wife bidding good-bye to another man in a train station, a man with whom she’s obviously having a very intense conversation. That evening, her murdered body is fished up out of the Thames.
Bess learns of this from a newspaper that she sees a couple of weeks later, and is soon in on the hunt for the killer. I will mention that I had a suspicion early on of who it might be, but I wasn’t at all sure. I loved this one! I read it while traveling, and it was perfect.

The Reconstructionist: A Novel: Ellis works as a reconstructionist, basically examining the scenes of car accidents to figure out what happened and why. He works with his best friend Boggs, a man who drives a green convertible and listens to audio books at top volume (I love his character). However, his own life is on a collision course of sorts–he has a crush on Bogg’s wife Heather, who was Ellis’ half-brother’s girlfriend when they were in high school. He lost track of her after his brother was killed in a car accident. It’s a good book but it ended up missing greatness for me. It also made me a little paranoid of driving. Did I tell you I’m teaching an Iraqi woman to drive? Sigh. That needs to be its own post.

Elegy for Eddie: A Maisie Dobbs Novel: This is apparently ninth in the series, and although it can be read alone, I did feel I would have enjoyed it more with a little more background. Set in 1933 London. Eddie’s a gentle man, “slow” but good with horses. His violent death has the costermongers–peddlers, basically–in his poor neighbourhood suspicious, and they enlist Maisie Dobbs, private investigator and from the same neighbourhood herself, to help. Very good.

Faith Bass Darling’s Last Garage Sale: Faith Bass Darling wakes up one morning and decides to sell her entire houseful of priceless antiques for “whatever you can afford, dear,” even if that’s 50 cents for a Tiffany lamp worth $40,000. Various people try to figure out what’s going on and, hopefully, get her to stop. Very Southern.

Between a Rock and a Hot Place: Why Fifty Is the New Fifty: This is a hilarious (but, frankly, also sort of scary) and frank account of why fifty isn’t really like thirty, in spite of what we may tell ourselves.

Let’s Pretend This Never Happened: (A Mostly True Memoir): You have probably already heard of this book and possibly even read it. It’s very very funny and really strange too.

Why Jesus? Ravi Zacharias looks at the historical figure of Christ in an age of mass-marketed spirituality.


More Like Her What really goes on behind those perfect white picket fences? This is about wanting to be just like someone you admire and envy, and then finding out their life isn’t so perfect after all.

When Captain Flint Was Still a Good Man: Set, as any tale with a man named Captain Flint ought to be, on the sea, this tale is about a young man following in his father’s footsteps to catch king crab on the Bering Sea, but he learns that his father may not have been someone worthy of emulation.

Prague Winter: A Personal Story of Remembrance and War, 1937-1948: This is Madeleine Albright’s account of her early life, and I think it looks fascinating! I’m dying to read it.

The Uninvited Guests
What begins as “an amusing Edwardian country house tale” becomes dramatic and sinister. Seriously I am on SUCH an early-20th-century kick right now. This one looks really really good and it’s getting great reviews too. Can’t wait!

Mean Moms Rule: Why Doing the Hard Stuff Now Creates Good Kids Later: I read author Denise Schipani’s blog, and it’s full of really common sense stuff that, frankly, shouldn’t need a book written about it. Of course you teach kids to eat their broccoli, for Pete’s sake! Life is not about only getting what you want! Manners matter. However, apparently I’m in the minority on this. Looks like a good book.

Secret Heroes: Everyday Americans Who Shaped Our World: I like this kind of history; chatty, everyday stuff about unknown, minor historical figures who nonetheless played key roles in the way things turned out. Examples include a spy who saved George Washington’s life, the first black combat pilot, and America’s first muckracking journalist–a 62 year old woman.

Phew! Wish me luck. I wish I had more time to read. (And frankly, I actually have even more books to get to, but I’m out of time and nearly late to a meeting as it is!)

What are you reading? Anything good? I may not have time right now to add anything to my TBR list, but there’s always next month! Zumba!

March 2023

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